Remember, and Do Better

Matthew 5:17-20

Don’t think you can get away with lawbreaking and with not keeping your obligations just because you follow me. These are the foundation I’m building on. Seriously, right and wrong never change, not in the slightest. They are woven into the fabric of creation. So, whoever ignores these universal laws and teaches others to ignore them will wind up at the bottom. But those who pay attention to them and teach them will earn a high reputation in the end. I tell you, unless you keep the law better than the nit-pickers and the fundamentalists, you will never make it.

Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, it’s clear that Jesus was right. Fundamentalists of all stripes have brought us to new lows, whether they claim they are exempt from the law because of their devotion to Mohammed or Jesus, or “my country, right or wrong.”

And yet we have also, in the last ten years, seen stunning examples of grace – starting with those emergency responders who went into the towers and never came out.

On this tenth anniversary, one of the most powerful things those of us who admire and follow Jesus can do is resolve not to let the lawbreakers hide behind the name of Christian any longer.

We Need You (And so Does Jesus)

Matthew 5:12-16

You are the zest the world needs! But if the zest goes blah, it’s time to throw it out and get some new zest.

You are the light the world needs! When you’re that good, of course you are going to stand out! You don’t install a light fixture in a black box; you put it where it will light the room. So go ahead! Stand out and let people see the great things you do so they can be inspired, too!

This is not a pep talk. This is serious.

The world needs you. We all need you.

There is something only you can do. Some flavor only you can add, some color only you can mix, some vision only you can articulate. There is some art that only you can make, some word only you can say. There is some gift that only you can give.

But if you’re timid. If you hold it back. If you let fear of standing out keep you from that thing that you have that the world needs… Well, just please, don’t let that happen.

Be not afraid! Take courage! Be bold! Go! Do it! Now!

Here’s What Jesus Really Taught

Matthew 5:1-11

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the mountain and sat down. They all gathered around, and Jesus taught them.

Rise up and take action, you who are poor in spirit, heaven is yours!
Rise up and take action, you mourners, comfort will come to you!
Rise up and take action, you meek, the world is your inheritance!
Rise up and take action, you who hunger and thirst for justice, you will be satisfied!
Rise up and take action, you who are merciful, and mercy shall be yours!
Rise up and take action, you who are pure in heart, and see God!
Rise up and take action, you peacemakers, you are God’s children!
Rise up and take action, you who are persecuted for doing right, heaven is yours!
Rise up, when people curse you, persecute you, and slander you because you follow me. Laugh it off and keep going, heaven is yours! They persecuted the prophets before you, too.

The following reflection on the Beatitudes comes from Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian, in We Belong to the Land (pp 143 – 144).

Knowing Aramaic, the language of Jesus, has greatly enriched my understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Because the Bible as we know it is a translation of a translation, we sometimes get a wrong impression. For example, we are used to hearing the Beatitudes expressed passively:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

“Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. However, when I look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, I find that the original word was ashray, from the verb yashar. Ashray does not have this passive quality to it at all. Instead, it means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent; to become straight or righteous.”

How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” or “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven?” That man would revile me, say neither I nor my God understood his plight, and he would be right.

When I understand Jesus’ words in the Aramaic, I translate like this:

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice,  for you shall be satisfied.
Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

To me this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. I can hear him saying, “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.” Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair.

One day two bats fell into a pot of milk. The pessimistic bat said, “What can I do? Will I struggle and sink, and die so very tired? I will not die tired.” He sank and drowned immediately. The optimistic bat said, “I will strive to the end, and at least they will say I tried everything.” She struggled and struggled, trying to fly, until she fainted. Later she awakened and found herself resting safely on a big roll of butter. This is not giving in to despair, but going beyond despair.

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples.

And now we know why Jesus was executed as a revolutionary… He was one.

The Importance of the First Followers

Matthew 4:18-25

As Jesus walked along the seashore, he saw two brothers, Simon (also known as Peter) and Andrew, fishermen by trade, fishing with nets. “Follow my lead,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to start a movement.” So they began to follow. Then, he saw another pair of brothers, James and John Zebedee, who were in a boat fixing nets with their father. Jesus called them, and they followed, leaving their father behind.

They went around Galilee where Jesus taught in synagogues, preaching the message of hope, and curing anything that ailed the people. He was soon famous, even as far away as Syria. People started bringing others who were sick: the diseased, the deranged, the epileptic, the paralytic. And Jesus cured them. Soon great crowds were following him. People came from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the other side of the Jordan River.

From one man with a message, to crowds from all over the place, Jesus starts a movement. Note the importance given to the first few followers. Of all the people to follow Jesus: Simon, Andrew, James and John are the most important people in the story. They took the biggest risk, and they, not Jesus, made the movement around Jesus happen.

In three minutes, here’s what happened on the beach and around Galilee that day, courtesy of Derek Sivers and the folks at TED.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBngiABc73Q?w=550]

Two questions to think about:

  1. If you’re leading, who are your first followers, and how can you make it be about them?
  2. If you’re following, who are you following and why?